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AP: SpaceShipOne crew confident

Published by Cathleen Manville on Thu Sep 30, 2004 9:08 pm
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Taken from the Columbia Daily Tribune

MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) – The pilot and designer of a private rocket plane say they are confident it could return next week to the sky in a quest to claim a multimillion-dollar prize, despite a harrowing flight in which the spacecraft dramatically rolled while hurtling toward the edge of the atmosphere.

As spectators and controllers nervously watched from the ground, SpaceShipOne corkscrewed dozens of times yesterday at nearly three times the speed of sound.

Test pilot Michael Melvill ignored a warning to abort yesterday’s flight to complete the first stage of a quest to win a $10 million prize.

The problem was being analyzed by the spacecraft’s builders, who must decide whether to proceed with another flight Monday, well ahead of the two-week deadline to qualify for the Ansari X Prize.

Melvill and spacecraft designer Burt Rutan said yesterday they were confident the Monday flight would go on.

Rutan said rolling occurred during flight simulations, and it was not a complete surprise when it happened again.

“We don’t know exactly what went wrong. It’s likely that it was something silly I did,” Melvill told NBC’s “Today” show this morning.

Rutan said he asked Melvill to shut down the engine, but Melvill kept going until he reached the altitude specified under the rules for the X Prize, a bounty offered to the first privately built, manned rocket ship to fly in space twice in a span of two weeks.

SpaceShipOne, with Melvill at the controls, made history in June when it became the first private, manned craft to reach space.

The Ansari X Prize will go to the first craft to safely complete two flights in a 14-day span to an altitude of 328,000 feet, or 62 miles – generally considered the point where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins.

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